Author Archives: Ravsberg Fernando

CUBA LOOKING FOR ITS FUTURE

Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times, June 23, 2016

Original Article http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=119572

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba finds itself at a critical juncture in its history, where important decisions, like those made in 1902 or in 1959, need to be made. The only difference this time being that we’re no longer living under the suffocating rule of military occupation or in the middle of a full-blown revolution.

Today, every Cuban has the chance to voice their opinions and to help steer the country’s future. This is a right we all have but it’s also a huge responsibility because our children’s and grandchildren’s futures are hanging on the line.

Before the debates had even begun, some people, who believe they have a patriotic compass which puts them above the rest of us, took it upon themselves to decide which Cubans should be excluded from exchanging their opinions.  They’re the ones who hope for a “Mesa Redonda”-style debate, where all those taking part say exactly the same thing. However, in this case, what’s on the table is so important that just pretending to discuss these issues would be to betray the Cuban nation and its future generations.  They instill fear to keep us from voicing our thoughts freely, they talk about Imperialism’s untrustworthy plans, capitalism’s Trojan horses, the danger of losing Cuban sovereignty and about crimes against equality. These truths are manipulated until they create one big fat lie.

What they don’t tell us is that in the middle of such volatile times, the biggest danger we face is staying put, immobile. All of the dangers they warn us about are real but the worst thing we can do is to continue stuck in our ways, in the trenches because “that’s how we’ve managed to survive for 50 years.”

Extremists are popping up on both the left and the right, attacking the warming of relations between Cuba and the US. Ironically, some criticize Obama for giving in without overthrowing the socialist regime and others criticize Raul Castro for having opened up the country to capitalism.

A few days ago, I was speaking to a politically active young man who told me that Raul’s reforms “have ideologically dismantled the people in order to strengthen the economy and all it’s done is leave us without both ideology and economy.” That’s another half truth.

Some people dream, just like the Soviets used to dream, about the possibility of upholding socialist ideology without strengthening the economy. They believe that medals, degrees and awards can substitute a dignified paycheck, housing, transport or food.

When Raul Castro came into power he didn’t really have a choice, being able to save the revolutionary’s accomplishments would mean being able to finance them. What do speeches and rallies matter when hospitals are falling to pieces, teachers are walking out of classrooms and young people are emigrating?

Not all of the Communist Party (PCC) members agree with the type of society the President and his ministers have put forward. Raul Castro himself officially recognised at the PCC Congress in April that there were major differences in opinion regarding the subject of private ownership of the means of production.

And there aren’t just a few differences when you bear in mind the fact that, in previous enquiries carried out in closed circles, 600 amendments were asked to be made to the original socialist project presented by the government, which only had 614 points to begin with.

It’s important to understand that the socialist project is a single unit and so it needs all of its parts to work properly. You can’t expect a State to be even the tiniest bit efficient if it hasn’t removed the burden of having to manage medium and small-sized businesses and micro-entities.

Sometimes it feels like this is a contradiction which goes against the old leftist ideals but Cuba won’t have dynamic sovereignty without foreign investment. Therefore, if you prohibit opening up our economy for “ideological” reasons, you’re going against the country and humanity’s best interests.

When every Cuban sits down to discuss the future of their society, they shouldn’t only think about their dreams but also about the political, economic and social mechanisms they need to make them come true. We need to remember that politics is the art of the possible.

It’s not enough to just want our children to go to school and university, that their grandfather has a decent pension, that we make Cuban films or that pregnancies receive the proper medical care they should; we also need to think about how we can finance all of these things.

A defensive mentality and resistance helped the nation to bear the siege of the greatest economic and military power in the world for over 50 years, but today, even Fidel Castro himself, its creator, has publically said that this no longer works.

If Vietnam had held fast onto the mentality that allowed them to win the war, it wouldn’t have the thriving economy it has today. Nature has shown us that species that are unable to adapt to changes in their environment eventually die out.

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Fernando Ravsberg

 

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CUBA: LESSONS ON TOTAL PRESS CONTROL

pravda-modernizarea-misiunii-de-pacificare-seamana-mai-mult-cu-lichidarea-acesteia-1351776650 November 13, 2014 – Havana Times –

Fernando Ravsberg

Original essay here:  http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=107315  HAVANA TIMES

Maintaining control over all of the media and having the power to decide who manages these and what gets published is probably the dream of many politicians around the world. Such a degree of control, however, is not without serious dangers. When all of the media are controlled by a small group of people in the governing party, these individuals have enormous influence over society, so much that, if push came to shove, they could use it to pressure the rest of the party and government.

The experience of the Soviet Union demonstrates the consequences of that control. Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Agitation and Propaganda Department (AGITPROP), became one of the main actors responsible for the disappearance of the USSR. For years, this “ideologue” was the second-in-command in this department. He was a rather insignificant figure until Mikhail Gorbachev appointed him head of AGITPROP, placing all of the Soviet Union’s media in his hands. He then went on to replace many newspaper editors, appointing people who were politically like-minded. He encouraged journalists to criticize certain sectors within the Communist Party in order to weaken the position of those who were opposed to the Perestroika process. Almost overnight, the same media that praised everything that transpired in the USSR began criticizing almost everything and had a decisive impact on public opinion, paving the road for the system’s implosion.

Ironically, some of the high communist officials who personally suffered the criticisms leveled by the press had been staunch defenders of Party control over the media.

In 1975, Cuba copied the Soviets in their control of the media, creating the Department for Revolutionary Orientation, which, according to Jorge Gomez Barata, a former member of that body, would later become the Party’s Ideology Department.

Periodico_granma As in the former Soviet Union, all Cuban newspapers, radio stations and TV channels repeat the same news – and they do so with such lack of subtlety that, on occasion, the three major newspapers (Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores), have had the exact same front page.

What is truly curious is that these rigorously controlled newspapers belong to organizations aligned with the revolution: nothing other than the Communist Party, the People’s Power Organization, the Young Communists League and the Cuban Workers Federation. Those in charge of these organizations, and even the trade unions, are communist cadres who ought to be able to manage the media under their control without having Big Brother tell them what they can publish and what they can’t.

Giving control over the newspapers back to the organizations that publish them, letting these chose their editors and editorial stances, would be a first step towards transforming these into public media, that is to say, into newspapers that actually belong to Cubans. It would also be an important step towards allowing these media to fashion their own editorial positions, prioritizing the issues that interest their readers, be these about youth, trade unions, provincial developments or culture.

Decentralizing control over the media is key to preventing any one power group from taking full control over these and molding public opinion to suit its interests, as occurred in the Soviet Union. What was questionable about AGITPROP wasn’t the path it proposed but the centralized use of the media to manipulate citizens. They acted as those in previous decades had done but in the opposite direction, the direction in which the wind was then blowing.

In addition to the similarities with the Soviet model, we must mention that there is already a huge gap between the reform process being impelled by the government and the contents of the country’s press, and that the resistance to change isn’t to be found in journalists but in those who coerce them.

There are those who believe that those people who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes – theirs and those of others.

ravsberg-755x490_fghFernando Ravsberg

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The Causes & Consequences of Cuba’s Black Market

21 August 2014 –  Havana Times – Fernando Ravsberg*

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=105653

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban press is out to get re-sellers, as though their existence were news to anyone, as though they just now realized there is a black market that’s on every street corner in the country, selling just about everything one can sell.

In a news report aired on TV, they went as far as insinuating that some employees at State stores are accomplices of those who hoard and re-sell products. They are now “discovering” that the black market stocks up, in great measure, thanks to the complicity of store clerks. The reporting remains on the surface, addressing the effects but not daring to go to the root of a problem that has burdened the country for decades as a result of the chronic shortage of products – from screws to floor mops.

During the early years of the revolution, these shortages could be chalked up to the US embargo. Today, however, Cuba maintains trade relations with the entire world and can purchase the products people need in other markets. It doesn’t even seem to be a financial problem, because the products become available and disappear intermittently. Shaving foam can disappear for a couple of months and reappear at all stores overnight.

These ups and downs are what allow a group of clever folks to hoard up on and later re-sell these products at higher prices. A lack of foresight and planning when importing is what creates these temporary shortages that make the work of hoarders easier.

There is no doubt Cuba has a planned economy. The question is whether it is actually well planned. The truth is that, for decades, the country’s domestic trade system has functioned in a chaotic manner and no one has been able to organize it minimally.

A foreign journalist I know recently noted that, when toilet paper disappeared from all State shops, a supermarket in Havana had a full stock of pickled partridge that no one buys.  Who would decide to buy such a luxury canned product at a time when most store shelves are practically empty? The story brings to mind that anecdote involving a government official who imported a snow-sweeper to Cuba.

The Market and Consumption

Cuba’s domestic trade system doesn’t require “reforms”, it demands radical change, a new model. Such a change should begin with Cuba’s importers, bureaucratic companies that are ignorant of the interests and needs of consumers and buy products without rhyme or reason.

Many of their employees receive [under the table] commissions from suppliers and therefore prioritize, not the country’s interests, but their own pockets. They are the same people who received money from the corrupt foreign businessmen recently tried and convicted in Cuba.

To plan the country’s economy, the government should start by conducting market studies and getting to know the needs of consumers, in order to decide what to purchase on that basis. It Is a question of buying the products people need and in quantities proportional to the demand.

Planning means being able to organize import cycles such that there is regular supply of products, without any dark holes, like the ones that currently abound in all sectors of Cuba’s domestic trade, from dairy products to wood products.

Sometimes, this chaotic state of affairs has high costs for the country’s economy, such as when buses are put out of circulation because spare pieces were not bought on time, there isn’t enough wood to build the crates needed to store farm products or a sugar refinery is shut down because of lack of foresight.

Even the sale of school uniforms at State subsidized prices experiences these problems owing to a lack of different sizes. This is a problem seamstresses are always willing to fix, charging the parents a little extra money.

Cuba’s entire distribution system is rotten. Importers are paid commissions, shopkeepers sell products under the counter, butchers steal and resell poultry, ration-store keepers mix pebbles in with beans, agricultural and livestock markets tamper with weighing scales and bakers take home the flour and oil.

In the midst of this chaos we find the Cuban consumer, who does not even have an office he or she can turn to and demand their rights (when they are sold rotten minced meat, and old pair of shoes or a refrigerator that leaks water, for instance).

Speculation is no doubt a reprehensible activity, but it is not the cause of the black market. The country may launch a new campaign against hoarders, but it will be as unsuccessful as all previous one if an efficient commercial system isn’t created.

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CELAC Summit in Cuba, the Challenges of Regional Integration

cumbre_celac2014

Original Havana Times translation from BBC Mundo: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=101429

January 23, 2014 |

Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — The Presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meet in Havana Jan. 28-29 and, paradoxically, the meeting coincides with the 50th anniversary of the mass breaking off of diplomatic and economic relations of countries in the region with Cuba.

“It’s very symbolic ,” says Luis Suarez, a Cuban specialist in Latin America. He explains that “the restoration of relations with all nations of the region and the presence in this gathering of their Heads of State demonstrates clearly that the US failed in its policy of isolating us.”

To continue with the symbolism, coming to the event as a guest is the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza. It will be the first official visit by a senior official of that entity to Cuba after his expulsion in 1962. “It is the first time in 200 years, the countries of Our America founded an organization at this level without being convened by the United States or Europe.”

Suarez points out that, despite this, Cuba “was the first country in Latin America that included the goal of integration in its Constitution. That vocation comes from the war for independence, when we had the support of citizens of several countries on the continent.” He explains the magnitude of the CELAC noting that “no other entity in the history of the region has joined so many nations,” adding that “it is the result of the existence of leftwing governments that seek to solve social problems and achieve more autonomy. In another context this would have been very difficult.”

Suarez said “the worst external and internal enemies of the CELAC are those who do not want us to have an organization of our own that allows us to reach out to the world with an consensus position. And the closest is the U.S. Pan-American policy.”

Suarez believes “the future of the regional organization will depend on the political consensus achieved for concrete actions that reach the ordinary citizen, in areas such as health or education, for example.” Luis Suarez “No other body in the history of the region has joined many nations” as CELAC.

In these and other subjects, such as coping with natural disasters, Cuba could play a key role. “The country has a vast experience in these areas and also has the necessary human resources to support such initiatives.”

“We even have a Latin American School of Medicine for Latin Americans; the Operation Milagro eye treatment program that has restored vision to millions of people of the continent, and we created the literacy teaching method “Yes I can” that has taught more than 3 million persons read and write,” explains Suárez .

The agenda of the Havana summit falls squarely on social issues but it remains to be seen what agreements are reached and which governments join them, because their application is not mandatory, “because CELAC is just a mechanism for dialogue and intergovernmental cooperation.”

It also aims to declare Latin America a “Zone of Peace”, an agreement that the Cuban specialist considered “extremely important because it implies that governments undertake to seek political and negotiated solutions, avoiding the use of force in the region.”

CELAC-2-Luis-SuarezProf. Luis Suarez

“The future of the regional organization will depend on political consultations that are achieved for concrete action to reach the ordinary citizen with social action.”

Furthermore, CELAC “can prevent others from using our conflicts to divide us, as they have done many times in the past.” If such an accord is reached it remains to be seen what would happen with the foreign military bases that exist today in Latin America.

Suarez believes that to achieve greater practical effectiveness CELAC should “integrate regional institutions such as SELA, the Latin American Economic System, ALADI, the Latin American Energy Organization, dedicated to integration, the Pan American Health Organization, and ECLAC.” He explains that “the institutional map of cooperation and integration is a swarm of interlocking agreements, overlapping and sometimes conflicting. The great contribution of CELAC is that everyone could now converge in the same forum.”

Luis Suarez reminds me that with the establishment of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States “is the first time in 200 years, the countries of the Americas founded an organization at this level without being convened by the United States or Europe.”

celac_modelo_horizontal1322248396

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Cuba’s Public Transport System: Adjustments are not Enough

 

Cuba’s Public Transport System: Adjustments are not Enough

July 4, 2013 | Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Fifty years of unsuccessful attempts at re-structuring its public transportation into a system that works should suffice to make Cuba consider changing the very foundations of the system. The “reorganization” being proposed today promises to be more of the same and is not likely to yield the quality services aimed for.

The last meeting held by Cuba’s Council of Ministers publicly recognized that the country’s transportation system “has been unstable, inadequate and low-quality for years.” The common Cuban who “hops on a bus” every day has something similar to say, albeit with far less refined words.

“Updates” can help steer those sectors that actually work, such as public health, education or sports, in the right direction. It can even improve the tourism industry, which has seen much progress in the course of the last 3 decades.

Cuba’s public transportation system, however, has always been bad and, in recent years, has gone from bad to worse. Truth is, it wasn’t even satisfactory in the days of Soviet aid, when there was plenty of money and State subsidies to invest in it.

One of the many problems faced by the sector are the odd administrative decisions of Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation, which purchases buses from China but demands that they be equipped with U.S. engines, as though oblivious to the economic embargo that has existed for over fifty years.

When the engine in one of those buses breaks down, Cuba has to buy it from the United States. The purchase is conducted through a foreign company and involves sending the product to a third country, where it is re-shipped to Cuba. Prices naturally skyrocket and spare parts take a long time to reach the island.

What’s more, a whole series of meetings between the commercial departments of the Cuban import companies and Ministry experts are held before the order is actually placed. There are committees that convene to evaluate one, specific aspect of the product, which refer the matter to other committees designed to review other product details, which in turn call on a third committee…and this process goes on and on for months.

All the while, the broken bus idles at a State workshop where, many a time, it is scavenged for pieces that can be sold in the black market. When the Ministry finally decides to make a purchase, more spare parts are needed and the whole, interminable process of committee meetings begins anew.

In this way, Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation has at times managed to keep half of Havana’s public buses out of circulation, a remarkable feat when we recall that the country has purchased a large fleet of vehicles from China.

Organizing a functioning public transportation system anywhere is, admittedly, a complex task which requires experts, large investments and continuous subsidies. Such efforts, however, are only successful when the system, at base, actually works, be it in a wealthy or poor country.

All transportation resources should be a part of a single, unified system. Photo: Raquel Perez

Granting a large number of vehicle owners licenses to operate as private cabs greatly improved Cuba’s public transportation situation, but the government undertook this liberalization without establishing a standard fare, the routes where these taxis must circulate and a maximum frequency of operations, regulations which are currently being applied in many countries around the world.

In the end, those who end up paying for the absence of official regulations are the passengers, for cab drivers charge whatever they feel like charging and circulate down the city’s busiest streets at the time of day they deem convenient, leaving other areas of the city bereft of viable transportation.

I also hear that the government will begin encouraging the use of bicycles as a means of transportation people can use to move around the city. Vice-President Murillo even said that authorities “will evaluate the possibility of selling spare parts needed to maintain the bicycles at subsidized prices.”

When I questioned the wisdom of removing bicycle lanes from Cuban streets in this blog, I was accused of being hypercritical. Now, it appears as though they will have to bring back these lanes, as selling cheap bicycles won’t be enough – you also need to give cyclists a safe space to move in.

Some people make fun of this proposal, as though the use of this means of transportation were a sign of backwardness. In fact, many developed nations promote the widespread use of bicycles and have an extensive network of bike lanes. Some major cities, like Barcelona, even have an efficient public bicycle rental system.

Cuba, a poor country, would benefit considerably from a strategy that availed itself of its various resources, creating a transportation system that could harmonize State, private, cooperative and even individual initiative.

To get there, however, the many import companies and endless committees that have been stepping on the brakes of the State must be removed, the private sector must be organized more efficiently, the cooperative sector expanded and inexpensive, individual alternatives which the population can afford must be sought.

Everything depends on how priorities are established. With what the government spends on only one of the thousands of vehicles it imports for use by its companies and ministries, a dozen electrical motorcycles or hundreds of good-quality bicycles could be purchased.

To buy a new bus, there’s no need to make an additional investment – importing 10 less automobiles suffices. The government could begin by suspending the practice of assigning vehicles to transportation officials, so as to give them the opportunity to experience what their less privileged compatriots endure (and think) on a daily basis.

Cuba’s economic progress should not be measured on the basis of the number of automobiles in circulation around the country, the fact there are more luxury cars on the street or we catch sight of a Hummer in Havana from time to time.

True success in this area will be to guarantee that ordinary Cubans have the means of transportation they need to get to work every day and take their kids to the Zoo one weekend or other.

Cooperativa de Omnibus Aliados, in the 1950s, (driving up Montes, it looks like)

Estacion Central de Ferrocarriles, Havana

Bicytaxis, Havana, November 2008

Camello, on Paseo de Prado (Marti), 1990s

Old Engines awaitying a home in a museum, in the shadow of the Capitolio, November 2008

New Chinese Bus, (driving up La Rampa?)

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Cuba’s Economic System: Reform or Change?

 

Fernando Ravsberg, June 20, 2013 HAVANA TIMES

Marino Murillo, Vice-Chairman of Cuba’s Council of Ministers and architect of the island’s recent economic reforms, has urged the country to aim for growth by eliminating “all of the obstacles that the current economic model places in the way of the development of the productive forces.”

The problem is that the greatest obstacle could be the model itself, which is based on relations of production that hinder the country’s economic development, slow down changes, interfere with reforms and bring about discontent among the population.

By implementing this socialist model, which dates back to Stalin’s time, Cuba obtained the same results seen in all other countries which copied it: agricultural production crises, industrial stagnation, shortages and a disaffected citizenry.

Marino Murillo, Vice-Chairman of Cuba’s Council of Ministers

Murillo invoked socialism’s theoretical forefathers, who said that the new, socialist society would need to nationalize only the “fundamental means of production”, a prescription that wasn’t exactly followed by a model which placed even junk food stands in State hands.

To be at all effective, every economic change essayed in the country today, no matter how small, invariably demands a whole series of subsequent reforms. And it is precisely there where the model, and its defenders, prevent the reform from becoming effective or yielding its best results.

Though the Cuban government’s official discourse itself is calling for a “rejuvenation” of the country’s model, the fact of the matter is that it will be next to impossible to fit a new piece into this jigsaw puzzle without altering the pieces around it, without producing a domino-effect that will ultimately change the entire pattern.

Though the Cuban government’s official discourse itself is calling for a “rejuvenation” of the country’s model, the fact of the matter is that it will be next to impossible to fit a new piece into this jigsaw puzzle without altering the pieces around it, without producing a domino-effect that will ultimately change the entire pattern.

The government runs into these obstacles every time it attempts to move one of the pieces of the puzzle. When it decided to hand over State-controlled lands to the peasants, officials invoked Cuba’s “current legislation” to forbid farmers to set up their homes in farm areas.

Such absurd restrictions discouraged many and pushed others to quit the food production sector altogether and devote themselves to securing construction materials illegally, so as to be able to build a home elsewhere, far from prying looks.

Massive and hugely inefficient, the agricultural sector may well be the very paradigm of bureaucratic mismanagement, but it is far from being its only expression in the country. Cuba’s import system is a true bureaucratic gem, in which producers are those with the least say in official decisions.

A Cuban factory wishing to import a piece of equipment from abroad is required to approach the importing company assigned to it by the State. Technically speaking, this “importer” does not actually import anything – it merely puts out a bid among foreign companies with offices in Cuba.

Employees from these companies are the ones who travel to the manufacturing country, purchase the equipment and bring it back to Cuba. Under the country’s current model, the manager of a Cuban factory is expressly forbidden from contacting the foreign export company directly.

Thus, the person who makes the order is an office clerk who knows little or nothing about what the company needs and who, in the best of scenarios, will opt for the cheapest piece of equipment available, something which often leads to serious production problems later.

The status quo relations of production continue to find support in Cuba, from the defenders of “Real Socialism.” Ironically, or not surprisingly, most of them are isolated from the reality of this socialist system, enjoying government perks that compensate for the “small inconveniences” of everyday life.

In the worst cases, these “intermediating State importers” are bribed by foreign companies so that they will purchase obsolete or poor-quality equipment. In recent weeks, Cuban courts tried hundreds of State employees implicated in these types of “deals”.

These are the “relations of production” which keep equipment in Cuban factories paralyzed for months, waiting for the needed spare parts, while State importers take all the time in the world to decide what to purchase.

Most Cubans I know support the changes that have been implemented thus far and want these to make headway quickly and effectively. It is hard to come by anyone who feels nostalgia for the old model, which proved more efficient in establishing restrictions than in satisfying the material needs of the population.

But these relations of production continue to find support in Cuba, from the defenders of “Real Socialism.” Ironically, or not surprisingly, most of them are isolated from the reality of this socialist system, enjoying government perks that compensate for the “small inconveniences” of everyday life.

During a recent debate, a Cuban journalist suggested that these officials catch a city bus from time to time, so as to immerse themselves in everyday reality. When they told me of this, I recalled the old anarchist graffiti which warned us that “those who do not live the way they think end up thinking the way they live.”

Fernando Ravsberg

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An Up-Date on Cuba’s Small Enterprise Reforms: “Ups and Downs of Self-Employment”

August 14, 2012 . Fernando Ravsberg. HAVANA TIMES

Original: Avances y vicisitudes de los trabajadores autónomos en Cuba

he Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Security, Jose Barreiro, explained to us that self-employment in Cuba is a “measure adopted while thinking of people coming from the overly staffed government sector as well as others who are not occupationally engaged.”

He was referring to those people who are laid off or are currently unemployed, though government officials always avoid using those terms. Nor do they like to deal with the issue of low wages, even though most people and President Raul Castro consider this a crucial issue.

Barreiro talked about greater flexibility in permitting activities that were previously banned and new approaches, such as urban cooperatives, but he confirmed that self-employment by university graduates will continue to be prohibited.

The deputy minister recognizes that the lack of products and supplies for the self-employed leads to black marketing and theft from the state. This is why he assures that supplies will continue to grow in stores, though they still haven’t opened wholesale markets – which he believes “would be ideal.”

According to Barreiro, the labor market structure will change over the coming years to an economy with “fewer government employees as they feed into the ranks of the non-state sector (as members of cooperatives, independent tenant farmers and self-employed workers).”

Slow growth

Deputy Minister Barreiro explains that “the main object (of self-employment) is that this becomes an employment alternative,” adding that “since October 2010 this sector has grown by 240,000 workers, bringing the total to 390,000.”

According to Barreiro, the growth in the number of autonomous workers is due mainly to “new permits being issued and the hiring of employees; currently there are 62,747 such employees,” a figure that indicates the success of some “self-employed workers.”

Among the independent workers, “Sixty-nine percent had no employment relationship at the time of applying for a license,” with that figure including the unemployed, pensioners and self-employed workers who exercised their trades illegally when those activities were prohibited.

The deputy minister said that though they lack reliable statistics, the fact is that only 31 percent of the self-employed come from government businesses or institutions. This situation is slowing the rate of layoffs, which needs to eventually lay off one million workers.

Barreiro asks for caution when people look at “the number of reduced personnel (layoffs), because in the ministry we believe that it is a sustained, attentive and organized process. Sometimes downsizing is associated only with the availability of workers (the number of laid off/unemployed workers) but this can also happen through increasing production without increasing personnel.”

More reforms

Barreiro agrees that the absolute number of self-employed workers “has not stopped growing, but the rate of growth is less” than in the beginning. He added that because of this, “self-employment will continue to become more flexible, within the country’s legal, zoning and health standards.”

“Now we’re working on designing structures for urban cooperatives, a form of organization that is different from that of the one for self-employed individuals (…) it will have much more flexibility (…) adopting a similar approach to that of the beauty parlors and barbershops that were transferred over to workers management.”

“There are many services that are currently provided by the state but that could be much more profitable if they were run by cooperatives, they would have much more room for success. We see a place for them in the economy,” explained Barreiro. But then he cautioned that this could not happen right away because “first you have to experiment so that when you advance you’re doing things right.”

He assured us that soon new models of independent work would also be initiated, ones that were previously prohibited. Among those authorized will be “sheet metal workers, iron workers, floor polishers, vendors of aluminum articles, flame-cutters, founders and marble masons.”

Scarcity and crime

The issue of the materials and supplies is the most serious one for self-employment. Authorization was given for independent carpenters, but wood isn’t sold to them. Sheet metal workers work without permission in front of everyone, despite it being known that they use oxygen and acetylene stolen from the government.

Barreiro maintains that “we must end this situation of illegal operations by creating legal mechanisms for purchasing products – for example, the types of gas used by sheet metal workers. Still, he insists that there will be no wholesale markets, though he recognizes that this would be ideal.

He claims that, “We’re clear that the solution is to increase supply,” adding that “now there are materials and inputs in stores; though these are not everything that people need, the supply is increasing. This will continue until the conditions exist for the transition to wholesale markets.”

The other major obstacle that’s confronted is the lack of start-up capital, since banks hardly ever make loans to stimulate business development. According to Barreiro, the main problem is that they still haven’t found ways to ensure that people will pay back their loans.

(*) An authorized translation by Havana Times from the Spanish original published by Cartas Desde Cuba

Bicitaxis

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